FORT MYERS - Junior G Rian Pearson poured in a season-high 28 points, but Toledo couldn't overcome foul trouble on Thursday evening in a 72-66 setback at Florida Gulf Coast. The contest was the championship game in the Battle 4 Atlantis on the Mainland tournament.
"Rian had a great game tonight but it really hurt us not having an inside presence due to our foul trouble," said Toledo Head Coach Tod Kowalczyk after Pearson exploded for 20 first-half points. "His shot selection in the first half was really good, and he really put us in a good position."
Four Rockets finished the contest with four fouls with freshman C Nathan Boothe (22 min.) and junior F Matt Smith (18 min.) affected the most in terms of playing time. That foul trouble resulted in the host Eagles hitting 16-of-28 free throws compared to the Rockets' 9-of-10 totals.
Sophomore G Julius Brown tallied 12 points and was the only other Rocket to score in double figures. Pearson also grabbed a team-high six rebounds, but couldn't help UT overcome a 38-27 deficit on the boards.
Senior G Sherwood Brown led the Eagles with 22 points with sophomore F Eric McKnight contributing 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots.
Toledo shot 44.1 percent for the game but cooled off considerably in the second half (35.5 percent) after posting a 53.6 shooting mark in the opening stanza. Florida Gulf Coast did just the opposite rebounding from a 36.4 FG% in the first half with a red-hot 60.0 rate in the second period to finish at 50.0 percent.
The Rockets took control from the outset early with a 10-0 spurt resulting in an 18-6 advantage less than seven minutes in. The Eagles responded with a run of their own to climb within 29-26 3:16 before intermission, but Pearson's six points spearheaded an 8-1 burst to end the half giving UT a 37-27 cushion.
"I thought we got complacent at halftime and that's something we have to work on," Kowalczyk said. "We have to teach guys how to play with a lead win on the road, and that's part of this program's growing process. We have a resilient group of guys, and we'll learn what it takes to be successful."
The Eagles quickly cut into the Rockets' double-digit advantage and eventually took the lead for good at 61-56 thanks to a 12-0 run that saw UT go scoreless for a 6:28 span. Boothe ended the drought to make it a three-point game, 61-58, with just under five minutes to play.
Buckley and Brown then hit back-to-back baskets three minutes later to bring UT within two, but FGCU answered each time to make it a two-possession game. Pearson provided the Rockets one last gasp when he hit three free throws with 21.1 ticks left for a 68-66 deficit. FGCU then broke Toledo's press and Brown iced the game with a breakaway layup.